A lone header from Shanice van de Sanden was all that could separate Norway and the Netherlands when the pair clashed in Utrecht to mark the start of Euro 2017.
Speeding out of the blocks
Just as the crowd started a round of cheers that seemed to make half of Utrecht quake the hosts ripped forward, Shanice van de Sanden able to tear down the right flank and feed the ball into the box. Where Vivianne Miedema went for the cross but missed, Lieke Martens was there to connect, her vicious shot drawing a fine first minute save from Ingrid Hjelmseth. The follow-up corner taken short and easily dealt with as Norway looked for their own fast start on the break, the flag lofted against Kristine Minde.
Not a side to shirk an occasion, Netherlands continue to cut into their opposition, their versatile and skilled attack leaving Norway scrambling though coping. A break at an early corner saw the visitors exposed once more, Norwegian bodies down in the box as van de Sanden chased the long ball, Hjelmseth fast out of her box to prevent the imminent danger. A high pressure game, the fouls started to flow, dead balls never looking more dangerous, Sari van Veenendaal getting the home fans on side early on with a claim coming through a congested area.
For everything good the Football Girls did the hosts came right back at them with five times more pressure, a delicate one-two between Miedema and Martens drawing another super save from Hjelmseth, her fingertips just enough to take the ball over the bar. A scorching run from Ada Hegerberg saw her reach a dying ball, her touch light enough to find Caroline Graham Hansen who nibbled the ball under her marker before seeing van Veenendaal make another top drawer save. The match a perfect advert for the rich attacks of both teams, neither happy to sit back.
The first twenty minutes flew by, the fans highly entertained by the display in front of them, another good attack saw another calm clearance, Norway unable to capitalise on their first corner of the match. The extra defensive presence of Maria Thorisdottir in the defensive hole did little to stop van de Sanden racing behind, the Liverpool speedster far too much for Elise Thorsnes nor anyone to deal with. The visitors were living on the edge at a corner just before half-time, a white shirt able to block and thwart the best the Dutch could offer in the moment. Another chance fell to Miedema but her placed shot slipped just wide of the post before Stephanie Frappart pulled the match back for a double head-injury in the build-up, the play allowed to continue with one player from each side down.
With the Galgenwaard pitch looking perfect neither side were willing to use every blade of grass, the play stretched and both sets of full-backs with their hands full, Graham Hansen enjoying the space she created for herself, van Veenedaal winning every battle. A Maren Mjelde direct free had the Arsenal stopper called into action as she scrambled over to turn the ball around. The viisotrs able to finish the first-half stronger, more quick footwork from Graham Hansen enough to win her side a corner before Nora Holstad-Berge headed wide.
Dutch drive forward
The second-half started as fast as the first, both teams losing no pace after the break, Miedema and Hegerberg both looking hungry from the outset. An early corner saw Norway break well through Hansen, her light touch through to Minde asking too much of her countrywoman however the pressure was firmly on, van Veenendaal’s clearance skewed. The fans erupting with noise when Miedema had the net shaking, a delayed flag enough to dampen the mood, the call the correct one. The Dutch taliswoman involved again minutes later as her acrobatic effort at an uncleared corner curler over the bar.
Seeing more and more of the ball, the hosts kept the visiting defence busy though their efforts all seemed to skim just wide before van de Sanden flicked the ball past Hjelsmeth just after the hour. The stadium left to shake as the home fans showed their appreciation of the suitably Oranje opener from the local girl.
Despite the high number of substitutions the game continued to flow at a heady pace, the hosts unquestionably on top as Norway chased an equaliser, the hosts only spurred on by the crowd. The clock ticked by and the ball only seemed to travel in one direction, the hosts still a little loose with their finishing, the area just wide of Hjelmseth’s goal repeatedly battered by the errant ball.
The last knocking saw Norway find some late steam and ask questions of the hosts but it was all too little too late, the home defence unwilling to disappoint their adoring crowd, van Veenendaal highly deserving of her clean sheet.